Useful points aired in latest peat debate

From the billing of last Friday's programme For Peat's Sake it was always clear that this BBC exploration of the use of peat and its alternatives in gardening was unlikely to travel far beyond the corporation's "environmentally correct" comfort zone.

For all that, some debate is better than none. And there were some very good elements to the programme - not least Toby Buckland's interviews with Ball Colegrave's Peter Byrne and Pioneer Plants' John Hoyland, which illustrated the very real technical challenges faced by the industry in attempting to meet the Government's arbitrary target of 90 per cent peat reduction by 2010. The discussion of the trials being undertaken by Ball and the wider industry with alternative growing media will also have sent a clear message to retail customers concerned about the issue that the industry that serves them is working hard to find viable solutions.

And, as Buckland did point out, none of this is being done with so much as a penny from Government.

Other good elements included Gardening Which? trials of alternative media. The message showed that the performance of all kinds of media is variable - and that what consumers need are hard facts for their purchasing decisions, not moral exhortations.

Other parts of the special were less convincing. After much emphasis on the seriousness of the issue, the programme asked Tim Briercliffe, as chairman of the Growing Media Initiative, which aims to get all parties working on the reduction target, whether this is just an attempt to make the industry look good. Why is it that if someone is employed in the industry it's OK to be cynical about their motives, but if they are employed by an environmental organisation whatever they say must be gospel truth? And what else is industry supposed to do? Pack up and go home?

Another disappointing element was the portrayal of Peter Sea-brook as the big bad peat man. What a fantastic opportunity the programme makers had here to have a thorough debate with someone always prepared to say exactly what he thinks - no matter what sensitivities he may ruffle. And they blew it by, at times, barely allowing him to finish his sentence. What a shame.

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